New Research: Which Herbs and Spices Improve Your Health
Some spices are much more than just flavor enhancers; they may help you live a healthier life as well.
by Dean Ornish | MD from Reader's Digest | April 2007
Seasonings have been used since Biblical times to perk up the flavor of food. What’s new: research showing that some of them can enhance your health.
The USDA estimates that the average American consumes 3.3 pounds of
spices annually, but more than a quarter of that is black and white
pepper and mustard seed (in prepared mustard). Mustard seeds contain
lots of protective substances called phytochemicals, which may inhibit
the growth of existing cancer cells and help prevent normal cells from
turning into cancerous ones. The following herbs and spices also have some amazing attributes, including reducing risk of heart attack or cancers.
This herb of the ginger family provides the yellow color in curries.
It’s a powerful antioxidant and has been used in Indian and Chinese
medicine for centuries. Preliminary studies suggest it may help prevent
or even treat Alzheimer’s disease. In some Indian villages where
turmeric is popular, there are unusually low rates of Alzheimer’s. Turmeric also enhances immune function, improves digestion and may
reduce your risk of heart attack. Because of its anti-inflammatory
properties, scientists are studying curcumin, one of the most active
substances in turmeric, as a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis.
You may know that studies have demonstrated that ginger is effective in preventing the
symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. In addition, it can
be useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting brought on by pregnancy.
To get the stomach-calming benefits, simply steep an ounce or two of
fresh gingerroot in a cup of hot water.
Ginger also contains an
inflammation-fighting substance called gingerol, which may help reduce
pain and improve function in people who have arthritis.
This common herb contains substances that have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may
improve immune function and circulation, and reduce the severity of
asthma attacks. Used as aromatherapy, it may enhance memory and
Also called cilantro, coriander is
rich in protective phytochemicals and is a good source of iron,
magnesium, and manganese.
One of the oldest spices known, cinnamon seems to reduce inflammation,
and recent studies show that it may also be especially beneficial for
those with type 2 diabetes. In one study, consuming less than a 1/4 a
day reduced blood sugar in people with diabetes by about 20% and lowered
triglycerides, LDL (“bad”) and total cholesterol. In another, chewing
cinnamon gum, or simply smelling the spice, improved attention and
Bonus: Cancer Fighters
Some herbs may also help ward off cancer or slow the growth of
tumors. In a USDA review of 39 herbs, researchers found that oregano,
dill, thyme, and rosemary have some of the highest levels of
cancer-fighting antioxidants. Other studies suggest that turmeric, sage,
clove, ginger, and chili pepper may help fight the killer disease.
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